New Orleans traditionally thrives on tourism, with visitors roaming the streets year-round. They hit all the usual spots: Jackson Square, Bourbon Street, Café Du Monde and the Garden District, to name a few. But when carnival time hits, the city re-invents itself.
Mardi Gras is a prime time to visit the Crescent City. Obviously, the biggest draw is the parades. Featuring floats, bands, horseback riders and various other participants, these events are not to be missed. And, of course, there are the famous Mardi Gras beads and other “throws” that float riders toss into the crowds. Cries of, “Throw me something, mister!” ring out along the streets as throngs of spectators vie for these special souvenirs.
To get the most out of your parade experience, choose a viewing spot that will suit your needs. Those spectators with families will find a more family-friendly atmosphere in Uptown along St. Charles Avenue. While the viewing arcade along Canal and other nearby streets is open to families, you may find this a more adult-oriented crowd. However, do not expect an abundance of “girls gone wild.” In my experience, those episodes are wildly exaggerated and occur less often than rumored unless you are on Bourbon Street in the French Quarter.
Regarding the “throws”–those items tossed into the crowds by float riders, be prepared to bring home a lot, if you are so inclined. Beaded necklaces, stuffed toys, doubloons and cups are just a few of the many things sailing through the air.
And when it comes to catching your fill, Errol Laborde–author of “Krewe: The Early New Orleans Carnival Comus to Zulu”–offers the following advice: First, if you and another person both get hands on a necklace, don’t surrender it to the other person. Instead, grab on it until they let go or it breaks. After all, this is serious business. Second, if something lands near your foot, step on it to claim it. If you wait to bend over and grab it, chances are it will be gone before you reach it.
Finally, relax and enjoy yourself. This is a time of fun and festivity. Don’t fret if you aren’t the first person by the parade barricade. Don’t worry if you can’t make it to every parade. The goal is to celebrate and relish this special time. After all, this is Mardi Gras!